Ethnocentrism & Othering in Intercultural Relations

Nowadays we live in a much faster world, where information is able to cross borders with the help of the Internet easily, and people are freer to travel or even migrate than ever before. These types of changes are related to the phenomenon called globalization. In simple words, it is a process of intense integration and movement of both people and goods among various countries and cultures. It fosters economic growth with the help of the flow of capital, goods, and labour. It means that the workforce becomes heterogeneous due to worker migration, immigration and influence of religious, ethnic and gender differences (Mor Barak, 2016). Corporate and HR managers currently have to eliminate their personal, prejudicial attitudes to deal with multinational staff. Issues steaming from ethnocentrism, othering and stereotyping should be addressed both on national and international levels to support multiculturalism. Despite sharing many common features, othering and stereotyping are different concepts that can be seen separately or be a part of ethnocentrism. The paper aims to find out how notions of ethnocentrism, othering and stereotyping are related to each other and how it can be mitigated.

To begin with, intercultural relations is the nonverbal or verbal communication that emerges between individuals representing different cultures. The world today is full of situations when people need to communicate with someone having other cultural and linguistic backgrounds in the areas such as business, education, science and tourism. For example, in 2007, 41% of public schools students in the US belonged to minorities, so such kind of relations are closer than they seem (Hybels & Weaver, 2014). Political conflicts and work or labour shortages drive immigration worldwide and increase the number of intercultural relations. However, not all individuals and nations are ready to tolerate and praise globalization together with multiculturalism as they perceive it as something detrimental and dangerous to their worldview and culture. In general, culture shapes how people think, behave, feel and determines how they see themselves and others.

The set of moral, philosophical and ethical believes and principles play a role of guide for individuals in their lives. Cultural effects of globalization are able to invoke both integrative and exclusionary reactions. Open-mindedness and high adaptation are believed to foster intercultural contacts, while heritage cultural perspectives lead to culture-centric reactions (Chiu et al., 2011). Globalization can be an enriching process for those who are open to new experiences or can lead to violent conflicts fuelled by differences in cultures, religions and ideologies.

There is a difference between intercultural, intergroup and other areas of communication. According to Gallois et al. (2018), intergroup communication is a process of communication between individuals who share their salient social memberships based on different grounds such as ethnicity, age, politics, religion and other affiliations. The main interest for social psychology researches is the influence of group membership on communication between individuals of the same group and others. People can have both positive and negative attitudes towards others what depends on how the group’s salience motivates them. Intergroup relations and group memberships usually shape self-concepts, self-esteem, and communication of people.

Now it is time to determine what is ethnocentrism and how it influences intercultural communication. According to Bizumic (2018), ethnocentrism is a social psychological construct that explains that for some individuals, their ethnic group is the most important and superior to all other groups. It is a type of social attitude that has substantial behavioural and emotional aspects which come from the cognitive evaluation of others. Concepts such as ingroup favouritism, discrimination, prejudice and racism have replaced the notion of ethnocentrism due to its interchangeability. However, it is a fundamental concept in psychology that has its own specifications and can be still found in societies all over the world. System justification theory can be applied here to explain ethnocentrism as it stresses that people tend to secure, justify and even foster the political, economic and social systems to which they belong (Jost, 2019). Ethnocentric group members usually believe that their culture is superior, so they judge others according to the standards set within their culture, not within another group.

Conflicts that emerge between different groups often cause ethnocentrism what can be seen as their consequence. This concept cannot be entirely associated with racism because, for example, Europeans historically avoided to apply the concept of race, while continued to prioritize some nations over others (Bizumic, 2018). Individuals strongly identify themselves with their ingroup, which makes them neglect or even hate the members of the outgroup due to existence of stereotypes.

It is usually confused with racism, but racism has a slightly different nature. Jacobi (2018) conduct a survey which shows that social contact hypothesis is not always working. American and international students, who have different ethnic origins, had to collaborate with each other for an entire semester. In result, the hypothesis that intergroup collaboration decreases ethnocentrism was not confirmed in contrast to other studies. Those researches claim that such connections question previously held attitudes, stereotypes and enhance intercultural competence of participants. In the modern world, stereotypes play a crucial role in justifying ethnocentrism, so if someone wants to combat this phenomenon, stereotyping should be decreased and avoided. Mass media has the power to educate people and eliminate such thoughts among ethnocentric societies.

In its turn, stereotyping is the judgment of others based on their membership in a social group. Somebody can perceive people who belong to a particular social category, such as ethnicity or religion, as those sharing the same characteristics. This attitude usually ignores the uniqueness of individuals, while individuation, which can be enhanced by positive intergroup communication, takes it into consideration (Mickus & Bowen, 2017). In other words, stereotypes are overgeneralized, exaggerate and oversimplified thoughts about a member of the particular social group. In contrast, prejudice is usually a negative opinion about others that is not based on evidence or experience (Jost et al., 2005). It is more about personal or group attitudes and feelings that usually used to perceive somebody being less important or capable because of his/her social identity.

Othering is a discursive process with the help of which a dominant ingroup stigmatizes a difference between “us” and “them” (real or conceived). It eventually brings the grounds for discrimination as dominated groups are perceived to have a negative identity (Blommaert & Verschueren, 2014). In such a case, the outgroup lacks the identity and is in opposition to the dominant group. It is so due to stereotypes that are usually denouncing and simplifying others’ actions, culture and worldview. The process of creation otherness is based on the identity of the ingroup and helps it to set itself apart. Only the social group which enjoys power can impose discourse of othering on the minority group to devalue their particularity.

Special discriminatory measures that targeted at minor groups accompany this process. African Americans, for a long time, had been suffering from different social and public restrictions because of White Americans’ othering attitudes. Blommaert and Verschueren (2014) state that conceptual habits and cognitive images of the dominant group can be spotted in their language usage, rhetorical habits and forms of communication. For instance, violent farmer demonstrations in Europe may be labelled by news agencies as “farmer demonstrations”, while peaceful migrant protests are systematically referred to as “migrant riots”. Moreover, dominant groups tend to show the deviance, unworthiness and contempt for the cultural others (Xu, 1995). For instance, Belgian tourists, who wrote about their experience with Chinese people, criticized them for throwing garbage and being noisy.

Although these actions deserve criticism, Dutch writers opted to relate to Western norms instead of their own cultural group ones, and they also used particular language to isolate them (Xu, 1995). According to Doerr (2013), the study-abroad programmes for students that aim to make them “global citizens” are not so useful because the discourse of immersion does not encourage hosts (cultural other) to be active. Learning by doing is possible only when students do not create the binary of self and others and instead find and focus on intersecting social problems that affect both.

For a long time, there have been debates over intergroup communications with some scholars stating that isolation is the best tool to stop conflicts, while others are defending the idea that such interactions can be a remedy that reduces prejudice and conflicts between groups (Pettigrew et al., 2011). Contact hypothesis, as a fully-fletched theory, states that intergroup communication can reduce prejudice together with anxiety, collective and individual threat (Hewstone & Swart, 2011). For instance, the survey regarding politics proved that contacts between people who possess dissonant political opinions might enhance political tolerance (Pettigrew et al., 2011). Positive effects of such contacts are usually seen when group salience is high, and intergroup relations are profound. The positive influence of Allport’s contact hypothesis was studied by Mickus and Bowen (2017), who organized an abroad study program for the US and Mexican students. This program was successful in reducing cultural stereotyping and creating shared values among them.

However, the initial assumption of the contact theory is that most kinds of contact did not combat prejudice. Techakesari et al. (2015), in their study, proved that negative contacts usually foster and confirm intergroup worries about such contacts and predictably increase prejudice. The negative experience of interactions tends to increase negative metaperceptions, while anxiety about interaction with other groups plays the role of mediator. For instance, results of the study on prejudice toward Afro Americans in the US revealed that negative contacts weaken the influence of positive interactions; thus, negative experiences are better predictors for group attitudes (Techakesari et al., 2015). White Americans think that Afro Americans blame them and distrust for old-fashioned prejudice, while Afro Americans still feel themselves discriminated.

To conclude, intercultural relations currently became more and more important due to intense globalization. Such social phenomena as othering, ethnocentrism and stereotypes hinder intergroup communication. Stereotypes, as the oversimplified beliefs that characterize other social groups, usually play the role of foundation on which othering and then ethnocentrism is often built. Othering is the discursive social process that determines and creates an environment where “criticized” minorities can be justifiably discriminated. The notions of othering and stereotypes then applied in the social construct of ethnocentrism. The contact theory has the potential to mitigate the influence of stereotypes and therefore improve intercultural communication.


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